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Reliable Recall: Training Your Dog to Always Come at Your Command

Michael is an avid pet-lover and content writer on topical themes related to dog care, training and behavioral development.

The ability to obey immediately is not only central to the relationship, it circumvents a myriad of dangers.

The ability to obey immediately is not only central to the relationship, it circumvents a myriad of dangers.

Obedience to the Come Command

Reliable recall training gives dog owners certainty that their pet will always respond obediently when called. In this sense, the command can be seen as the equivalent of having an invisible leash, allowing the owner to maintain control on every occasion, even when no physical restraints are present.

Many owners complain that their pets never obey when commanded to come. The real question that should be asked here is this: Has the dog ever undergone the type of training that equips it to respond obediently whenever summoned? Oftentimes, the matter has little to do with insubordination. The likelihood is that the dog has never been supplied with the keys and tools necessary. These can only be forged through appropriate training.

Physical means of limiting a pet's movements like leads and barriers are not applicable in every situation, plus it is not uncommon for dogs to break loose. For a dog owner, the recall command is like an unseen security switch that can be activated to immediately seize control of an unexpected or life-threatening situation.

Several scenarios come into play here. The canine may have just come into contact with an unfamiliar but dangerous creature like a porcupine or snake, or it may be headed toward heavy oncoming traffic on a highway. It may have darted out of sight in unexplored territory, gotten embroiled in a sudden fight with another dog, or started playing with a dangerous object. The dog may be walking along a treacherous path on the edge of a huge depression or water reservoir.

Situations abound which prove that a dog's ability to understand and immediately respond to its owner's call is not only central to the relationship but also circumvents a myriad of dangers. If you have tried to make your dog come on your command without success, the following steps will help you achieve the results you are looking for.

  1. Initiate the conditioning
  2. Build distraction resistance
  3. Create a positive association
  4. Conduct territorial testing
  5. Foster lifelong retention

1. Initiate the Conditioning

Recall training is divided into stages, starting from the level of least resistance. Once each stage after the initial one has been successfully completed, the dog should be equipped to obey you when you issue the command in different situations.

Start in an environment free from distractions. Hold out a favorite treat or toy in clear sight of the dog, then call out its name and issue the command, 'Come!'. You could also do this while backing away in order to create more distance. If the dog obeys and comes to you, offer it the reward while expressing affection and praise.

It may happen that the dog runs to you before you have issued the command. If this happens, avoid giving it any reward whether in form of treats, toys, petting or verbal compliments. The reward must only be issued when the proper sequence is followed correctly.

After completing this initial step, repeat the same procedure but this time from a distance further away from the dog. Continue increasing the distance in each subsequent session, until the dog is finally able to come to you even when you are out of sight (for example in an adjoining room).

One way to accelerate the learning is to do the training together with other family members or friends. Have each person call the dog to come to them at different intervals. If the dog approaches any one of the persons without having been called by that person, they are to completely ignore the pet and not to have so much as eye contact.

The dog is rewarded with a treat, attention and praise only when it goes directly to the person who issued the command. Once all the responses are spontaneous and consistent, the treats will no longer be necessary and can be excluded.

It can take up to two weeks for a dog to learn a new habit. So patience is required. One thing that makes people give up on pet training is the expectation of instant results or quick fixes. Any irregularities in how the dog responds at the beginning of the exercise do not necessarily mean there's anything wrong with its ability to learn or even with the mode of training itself. It just needs a bit of time and practice to crystallize and become second nature.

There can be any number of attractions competing for your pet's attention and rivaling your authority over its behavior.

There can be any number of attractions competing for your pet's attention and rivaling your authority over its behavior.

2. Build Distraction Resistance

The next stage in the process is to move the training from the area of least distraction to the next level. The progression could for example start indoors, then in the backyard, and finally in the parks or other crowded, activity-filled places.

Place the dog in an environment where there is a temptation that can attract it like a magnet. This could be as simple as having an open bowl of treats in a room. Allow the dog to enter the room and even head off toward the goodies. Call it just before it reaches the bowl. If your pet turns around and comes to you, shower it with affection and praise while offering it a tastier treat as a reward.

Distraction discipline is necessary because in a real-life situation there will be any number of attractions competing for your pet's attention and rivaling your authority over its behavior. It is, therefore, necessary to sufficiently practice and prepare beforehand.

Using a long leash when going with the dog for a walk is preferable at this stage because it gives a wide enough field of operations. Observe the dog's movements and issue the command randomly, rewarding it each time it obeys. If at any point your pet fails to respond to your command, gently pull the leash and reward it when it reaches you. Work toward strengthening the conditioning.

Another method is to have a family member or friend take out the dog for a walk on your behalf. Follow them at a distance and issue the command (as before) at opportune moments. Your assistant should then let go of the pet as soon as it turns and starts running back toward you. Immediately the dog reaches where you are, offer it a reward by way of reinforcement.

When your body language expresses gladness and affection, the dog will be happy to have pleased you.

When your body language expresses gladness and affection, the dog will be happy to have pleased you.

3. Create a Positive Association

It is essential that recall be associated with positivity so that the dog does not become averse to the command when issued. Avoid using the command if you are about to scold or reprimand your four-legged companion.

Especially in the early stages, the command should not be issued for something the dog naturally dislikes, like having its nails trimmed or taking a soapy bath. The same applies to interrupting playtime in order to return home. Otherwise, the word comes to be equated with 'end of fun' and the dog may not be too keen to respond next time it is used.

In her informative book, Total Recall, Pippa Mattinson contends that recall is the most important command you can teach your dog. She also states that 'if we want to successfully train with as few corrections as possible, it is vital that we control the consequences of the dog's behavior very closely and use rewards effectively'.

First, get your dog used to obediently responding in ordinary situations and then gradually start summoning it in situations that are not convenient from a canine perspective. Provide higher value incentives as a means of counterbalancing the odds to your favor. The key is to ensure that the conditioning is such that coming to you is more rewarding than anything the dog may be involved with at any given moment.

Your dog is able to judge your mood. Whenever you call, it is best to do so with excitement, as though anticipating something good that is about to happen. As canines can read body language, sending any signals that indicate boredom or disinterest when the pet comes after being called, should be avoided. Such communicate that the dog's efforts at obedience are inconsequential. Instead, express gladness and affection through your body language and the dog will be happy to have pleased you.

If we want to successfully train with as few corrections as possible, it is vital that we control the consequences of the dog's behavior very closely and use rewards effectively.

4. Conduct Territorial Testing

As stated before, this training should begin in a limited, controlled space, like a room set aside for the purpose, then an adjoining room and eventually to the outdoors. In outdoor settings, allow the dog sufficient time to explore on its own before issuing the command. It should not be summoned into obedience too soon and there should always be sufficient breaks between intervals.

As you place longer distances between you and your dog, observe whether the responses you receive are immediate. If there are delays, reduce the distance and try again. In each case, avoid compelling the dog to return to you.

A dog's powers of hearing diminish with age, so it is preferable to have all commands you teach be accompanied by gestures. It is also much easier to for a dog to connect meaning where physical signals are involved. Moreover, there may be instances where your voice does not carry far enough either due to the presence of other sounds or due to distance. A simple hand signal would be sufficient.

When you plan to go out on a stroll together, remember to carry with you enough treats or other types of rewards that the dog enjoys. These incentives are your ammunition during the outdoor training, at least until the command has been mastered.

When you plan to go out on a stroll together, remember to carry with you enough treats or other types of rewards that the dog enjoys.

When you plan to go out on a stroll together, remember to carry with you enough treats or other types of rewards that the dog enjoys.

5. Foster Lifelong Retention

Here are some additional tips to help you in the training process. The key is to enable your pet to retain the learned instructions for the long term.

  • Aim at getting the dog to respond immediately. Delays or inconsistent reactions after training sessions can be indications that the dog wishes to maintain a position of doing as it pleases. It is therefore necessary to focus on the acquisition of the skill as well as the timing of the response.
  • The recall command should not be issued more than once at a given time. If there is no response from the dog after it has been called, the instruction should not be repeated over and over. This repetition devalues the position of authority and delays the learning process.
  • Likewise, calling the dog several times or trying to get its attention in other ways conveys the impression that rules are unimportant and can always be ignored. Use the command once and if it is not obeyed, carry on with what you are doing while waiting for another opportune moment to try again.
  • This is also a type of training where the use of a clicker can be beneficial in helping the dog associate the sound with the action it has just performed. However, ensure that you click at exactly the moment the dog reaches you, neither before nor afterward. In this way when the reward follows, the dog will learn to connect the sound with the positive outcome of obedience.
  • Owing to the limited attention span of canines, the training sessions ought not to be overextended. The key is not to have long sessions but short ones routinely practiced over a period of time.
  • When treats are used in such training sessions, a dog's regular meals need to be adjusted accordingly. The latter should be reduced in quantity to avoid overfeeding and weight gain.
  • The process is straightforward for your dog and complete mastery is not difficult. However, if you prefer not to conduct the training yourself, consider reaching out to a behavioral therapist or enrolling for professional training sessions with an expert.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

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